Every now and again, bands or individuals come along who, you feel, have that special something. The Nashville-based blues-rock band, The Bloody Nerve, is one such act, seemingly on the cusp of a deserved breakthrough, but more about them in later posts.
Another super-talented blues-rock artist I’ve been keeping an eye on hails from that most unexpected of places: Portugal. He’s the rock guitarist-singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Carlos Wilde, whom I first wrote about in December 2014.
Before we continue on about Portugal’s Carlos Wilde, since this is mainly a historical blues and rock blog, let me add that Portugal has its own part to play in the history of blues. It was a Hawaiian slide guitarist, of Portuguese heritage, Palakiko Ferreira, who went to the United States in 1914. Once there, he became the biggest star of America’s (and therefore the world’s) Hawaiian guitar era, an era which ran from 1915 to 1930.
Palakiko Ferreira, who performed as Frank Ferera, is said to have influenced blues and Hawaiian guitarists alike. In a guitar duet with his wife and recording partner, Helen Louise Ferera, Frank Ferera released a track called ‘Palakiko Blues’ in 1917, one of the earliest recordings of slide guitar with a blues title I know of. Frank’s wife, Helen Louise Ferera, is of special interest in her own right, so I’ll write a post on her down the track. Watch this space.
You can hear Frank and Helen Louise Ferera’s ‘Palakiko Blues’, and a selection of early blues slide guitar tracks, in my previous post, ‘First Slide Guitar Blues, Who, When and Where?’ Simply move onto the next story after Carlos, on this site’s front page’s ‘slider’, by clicking the arrow.
Hawaiian music, which peaked in 1916 as the most popular of all music genres in America, was introduced to the USA by Hawaiian guitarists in 1893. The genre had originated in Honolulu around 1885, when the schoolboy, Joseph Kekuku, ran a metal bolt up the neck of his Portuguese guitar. (The ukulele, another instrument associated with Hawaii, was also introduced to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants, mainly from Madeira and the Azores.)
Jumping forward a good century, I don’t know of any Portuguese – or continental Europeans, for that matter – who can produce such subtly blues-based guitar riffs, and rock so melodically, moodily and catchily, as Carlos Wilde. He has a unique talent for making feel-good melodious rock that encroaches into the pop sphere. It’s that catchy, which is why I feel his appeal is so universal.
Now based in Spain, Carlos is currently recording new material which he hopes will be out by September or October 2017. Being an academic with a day job – he’s an English teacher and teacher trainer – producing and recording music isn’t as easy as it sounds. As Carlos says, “During the academic year, I have little time to record, so I normally work on arrangements and song ideas. Then, over my summer break, I get down to business and try to record some tracks.
“But it’s not always as simple as that because, once you start recording, more ideas and arrangements come up and it gets to the point when I have to set myself a deadline, otherwise it will always be an unfinished business.”
I wrote in my 2014 piece on him that Carlos cut his rock teeth with a band in Ireland. I’ve since found out that Carlos Wilde was rocking long before that, performing on stage from the age of six, in his home city of Figueira da Foz, on Portugal’s west coast. He was singing fado, the Portuguese version of America’s blues, a mournful, melancholy music evoking struggle, longing and passion, that evolved on Portugal’s waterfronts in the 1820s.
“Myself and two other guys would perform for the local community, wrapped in black capes – black being associated with death, pain, misery, and so on.”
“We were accompanied by professional fado guitarists. Then, as a result of having a good voice, I was allowed by my school to miss class to get voice coaching, from a piano teacher who made me go up and down scales.
Next, at the age of ten, I was invited to perform in the Casino Variety Show, singing folk and pop. And, by 12 or 13, I’d formed a band with school friends giving garage concerts for family and friends. School concerts followed when I was about 14 or 15. I’d sing Rolling Stones songs, Bob Dylan and Beatles songs, stuff by the Animals and Credence Clearwater Revival.” Good choice, Carlos. You learnt from the best.
By the age of 13, Carlos Wilde had already started gigging abroad. First up was France, then Holland. “The guitar would always go with me.”
Then came his punk period. “Yep, I’ve been on the planet awhile,” he says. Haven’t we all, Carlos? As an aside, if you’ll excuse me butting in on Carlos’s interview, this writer was well into his 30s with two children when punk struck in 1976. I was in Australia, at the time, and Australia’s The Saints and AC/DC had just cracked it the UK along with New Zealand’s Split Enz. As Sir Bob Geldolf famously put it, rock music was altered in the 1970s by three bands, three punk bands: The UK’s Sex Pistols, Australia’s Saints and America’s Ramones.
I even made a TV commercial about punk for Melbourne’s Herald evening newspaper, advertising its feature on punk in 1977. I turned up, with a nervous camera crew, to a funky (in the true sense of the word), smoke-filled venue (a bit like New Orleans’ old Funky Butt Hall), packed with pogoing punks, with metal bolts skewered through their faces, and they (as they say) were just the girls .
The main attraction was the Sydney proto-punk band, Radio Birdman, rumoured to be made up of trainee doctors. As it turns out, Radio Birdman was formed by an American ER doctor and ex-US Navy flight surgeon, Deniz Tek, so his bandmates may well have been medics.
Indeed, Deniz is still rocking, and in 2011 he joined Iggy and the Stooges as a special guest, in a tribute to his home town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. According to Wikipedia, Deniz splits his time between working in hospital emergency departments in New South Wales, Australia, and Hawaii, USA, while still taking time to record and tour.
You have to admire those musicians who keep on making music while holding down a day job, like Deniz Tek and Carlos Wilde.
After performing Portugal’s version of blues, in amateur theatre, garage bands and school concerts, Carlos Wilde got his punk bug, forming a band called The Cult, long before England’s The Cult appeared on the scene. Various bands followed including Carlos becoming lead singer of a rock band called Climax, not to be confused with England’s legendary Climax Blues Band, (whom I used to watch in the UK when they were still Climax Chicago Blues Band. They had to drop the ‘Chicago’ bit because of pressure from that famous American, group Chicago.)
But Carlos Wilde’s Climax, of course, was a Portuguese band, who opened for one of Portugal’s top rock bands, ‘Jafumega’ (broad translation: Already Lit). Then, heading for the top in Portugal, he went, instead, to Ireland to further his rock education, becoming involved with the Emerald Isle’s traditionally high-quality rock and roll scene. (Think Skid Row, Gary Moore, Rory Gallagher, Thin Lizzy, Stiff Little Fingers, U2, the Undertones and so on.)
But it’s a rare musician who makes a living doing nothing but music, so Carlos got a job in Spain. It’s a job he loves, but music, of course, is his first love. As you’ll have seen, Carlos Wilde has served a long and varied rock apprenticeship and has built up a loyal following. So join me in keeping your eyes and ears primed for his new material this (northern) autumn. It’s bound to be wild.
Some Dutch and Irish memories from Carlos Wilde.
“My punk band, The Cult, happened after secondary school. Then came Holland, where I spent a year, which was great fun – meeting great friends and beautiful girls – my first steps in teaching studies and quite a lot of music research. I was introduced to the music of Herman Brood and His Wild Romance and saw the band many times. Herman Brood became the ultimate Dutch Rock ‘n Roll icon.
“I also came across Golden Earring and lots more Punk bands like The Flyin’ Spiderz, Ivy Green, et al. When I went back to Portugal for a short spell, Herman Brood was aired on Portuguese radio for the first time, thanks to a tape that a friend recorded from my vinyls. I also met and chatted for a while with Herbert Curiel, the guy who filmed Cha Cha – a movie featuring Herman Brood, Nina Hagen and Lene Lovich.
“In Ireland, I met quite a lot of people in the music and film scene, including Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton from U2. I used to see them often because, at the time, I was sharing a house with a hairdresser who ended up working for them. Thanks to that, I ended up going to a concert in Croke Park, Dublin, with a VIP ticket. At the end of the concert, the whole band came to the VIP tent to say ‘Hi’. A couple of years later on my birthday (sheer coincidence – I bumped into Fintan (the hairdresser) and Adam (U2 bass player) in Grogans, a cool Dublin pub, and we had a laugh and a couple of pints together.
“During my years in Dublin I also met Brian Downey, drummer for Thin Lizzy and Liam Ó Maonlaí, then singer of Hot House Flowers. He then went solo, singing in Irish. Liam crashed at my place a few times – and, of course, I knew some of the musicians involved in the same fight as mine, which was to get a break: bands like Virgin Prunes with singer, Gavin Friday, a good friend of Bono, who was a neighbour for a while. Then after the band he, too, went solo.
“I knew Leslie Dowdall, singer for In Tua Nua, and also met the Irish film director, Neil Jordan, and some of the cast in the movie High Spirits, filmed in Ireland.”
As I said, Carlos Wilde has served an extensive apprenticeship, as I’m sure all musicians of ‘a certain age’ have. I know from experience, only a few make a solid living solely through music. Those who do are the lucky ones because, without huge slices of luck, today’s musicians will continue to push shit uphill, no matter how good they are. It takes good fortune and perseverance, and more perseverance to succeed. Carlos Wilde has it in spades.